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Course Registration

The message below about course registration was written by Intern E (’12).  Some tips from the Parent Programs office follow.


At some point in your student’s college career you will receive a frantic phone call during registration.  You will hear, “there are no classes left,” and “I didn’t get into a single class I wanted.”  While it may feel like this to your student, it is hardly ever true.

First, remind your student that although the class may say that it is closed, there is still hope for the future.  He/she should try to waitlist, and during the first week of classes, spots can come open.  Because freshmen register last, many classes are full simply because upperclassmen are enrolled in them while they wait to be allowed in their first choice classes. As upperclassmen move off the wait list into their desired classes, openings trickle down and spaces open up in classes where freshmen are waitlisted.

I recommend encouraging your student to look at the Undergraduate Bulletin, which lists all the classes that are ever taught at Wake Forest.  Each class is listed and described in detail.  Encourage your student to read these course descriptions, and to take a chance on an unfamiliar class.  More often than not, there are hidden classes that will end up becoming favorites.

They should not rely on virtual ratings and word of mouth alone.  Too often, freshmen hear to avoid certain classes, and they refuse to take morning classes.  These constraints make registration more difficult.  Instead, students should be open to taking many different classes to fulfill requirements, and they should learn there is a difference between preference and availability.  They should remain open to the courses that are available.

Some students come to college knowing exactly what they want to major in – but these students are in the minority.  It is important to explore classes in a variety of subjects during freshman year.  First Year Seminars are a great way to take classes in fields outside your comfort zone.  There are options for these seminars in areas of interest across the board ranging from film analysis, to history, to healthy living.  First Year Seminars are smaller classes that give a taste of what a Wake Forest education will be like.  These classes help a student develop writing skills, the ability to articulate an opinion, and to learn to participate in class discussions.

One of the most important things to remember during registration is to take a balanced course load.  Most students should not take calculus and organic chemistry in the same semester – instead, they should take a class in a subject area they are very familiar with, one they are moderately familiar with, and one that is a new or “stretch” subject.  This will help them build confidence in the subject they know well (and to let them get used to college level work) as they ease in to subjects with which they are less familiar.  Students should use freshman year as an opportunity to take a challenging class in diverse fields.  The purpose of a liberal arts education is to develop a well rounded sampling of all subject fields.

During registration, remaining open to different classes, professors, and times, is the easiest way to be satisfied with your final schedule.  Then sample widely of new courses and subjects and enjoy learning from our outstanding faculty.

And some thoughts from the Parent Programs office:

Every first-year student has an academic adviser and also a peer adviser.  Students also have the option of talking with a professional academic counselor in the Office of Academic Advising if they wish to do so.  Every student is required to meet with his/her academic adviser to discuss course plans and to ensure the student is staying on track to complete Basic and Divisional requirements.

Advisers are resources to help students explore their interests and to urge students to reflect on possible courses and plans of action – but advisers do not typically tell a student what to sign up for during registration.  The student has to own his or her course choices and make those decisions on his/her own.

Before my advisees come to me for our one-on-one meetings, I ask them to look at the Undergraduate Bulletin and also see which courses are being offered this semester (which can be found in WIN).  Then come to our meeting prepared to discuss which courses they want to take, as well as alternatives in case their first choice(s) are taken.  I often show my students two different ways to consider their course selection process.

Method One: What subjects do you love? What subjects do you never want to do again?  Where are you ambivalent? In this scenario, I will tell students that within Divisional requirements section, they have many choices and options.  For example, in Division I – Humanities, students are asked to take 2 courses, and they must be in two different departments.  So they must take either a History and a Religion class, or a History and Philosophy class, or a Religion and Philosophy class.

For some students, it is easy to say “ooh, I love History – I definitely want to take a class in there!” or “I could not stand History – I don’t want to do anything there.”  Once a student has ruled in the departments he/she wants to focus on, then the student can look at the individual course descriptions in the Undergraduate Bulletin and what is being offered next semester (in WIN – Forms and Documents Library – Registrar, then look for the PDF of the new semester’s offerings).  Here is an example worksheet for Scheduling By Likes or Dislikes.

Not every class is offered every semester, so if a student wants to take Religion 109, Introduction to Buddhist Traditions, he/she can try to register for it.  If the student gets that class, terrific.  If not, the student then has to ask him/herself  “How badly do I want to take this class?  Am I so interested that I want to wait for it and try again next semester/next year (when my registration time might be better), or would I be just as happy taking another class within Religion that is being offered now?”  There were many classes in my own undergraduate experience that I wanted to wait for – I would not be happy unless I took 20th Century British Fiction, with a specific professor.  It took me 3 tries to get in, but I wanted it badly and was happy to wait.  I am glad I did.

Method Two: Course selection based on class times. Some students know they are better in the mornings, or better in the afternoons, or they are student-athletes who have specific practice schedules that require being free at certain times.  And students can attempt to make a schedule based on the times he/she wishes to be in class, choosing from the courses available at those hours.

In this method, students can grid out all the days/class times, listing a variety of options in priority order for each time slot.  When registration comes, the student can start with his/her “A list courses” and hope to get it – and if not, move to the next choice on the list.  This method can be especially effective if a student is ambivalent about which class to take within a particular division.  If he does not particularly care whether he gets Religion 101, 102, 105, 108, or 110, he can select whichever one is open and meets his desired time schedule.  Here is an example worksheet for Scheduling By Class Time.

Students can also use a hybrid of these two methods.  The important thing is that the student does enough self-examination and reflection, as well as reading the descriptions of each potential course, so that he/she makes an informed decision about classes to take.  The academic adviser is there to assist the student, to remind him/her about prerequisites or to raise potential concerns about the schedule, but the course choices are the student’s own to make.

Parents and family members, you can best help your student by NOT trying to help choose his or her courses. I have seen many a student whose parents – in an effort to be helpful – have gone through the course catalog and suggested the courses they think their son or daughter should take.  This can be fraught with peril, for a variety of reasons.

Your student might not want to disappoint you by telling you they have no interest in that course, and then sign up for it and perform poorly because they wanted to take something else.

Or a parent might misjudge his/her student’s strengths and urge them to sign up for a course that relies on a skill their student does not have.  For example, I have heard from a parent who told her student to sign up for an Art History course based on the idea that she thought her son would like art, but did not realize the course relied heavily on memorization, which was not one of her son’s strengths.  He struggled, and both parent and student were unhappy.

I have talked to parents who told their students not to listen to the advise of their academic adviser, and urged the students to take (for example) Accounting 111 and Math 111 in the same semester – and then are upset when the student is not doing well.  Academic advisers are more intimately familiar with suggested course combinations and prerequisites, and they are there to help students avoid pitfalls like that.  Please let them do their jobs and do not contradict the adviser’s advice!

The bottom line is: your students will be happier when they pick their own courses.  It helps them gain independence when they do the research themselves and make their own choices.